In a distant galaxy more than half a billion light years away, astronomers have discovered molecular oxygen. Despite the high prevalence of this element in the solar system, which is important for the formation of organic life, the presence of oxygen has only been officially confirmed for three objects in the Milky Way. How exactly does oxygen arise outside our planet and how can it be detected at a distance of several million light years from Earth?
How does oxygen come about?
The Galaxy Markaryan-231 is a very unusual object by universal standards. This young galaxy is powered by the energy of a nearby quasar and is 561 million light years away from us. It has an extremely bright galactic nucleus with an active supermassive black hole in the center. According to an article published on sciencealert.com, a large amount of molecular oxygen was discovered in Markaryan-231, which was previously only seen in isolated areas of our galaxy. According to the researchers, the Orion nebula, which is known for the presence of a large number of young stars and whose intense radiation leads to the sublimation of water ice and the breakdown of molecules and releases oxygen as a by-product, has become the most oxygen-rich place in the entire Milky Way.
To find oxygen, the scientists used so-called millimeter astronomy, with which the smallest radio waves emitted by certain molecules can be detected. The observed processes that are currently taking place in the center of Markaryan-231 directly indicate that the young galaxy has two multiple supermassive black holes at the same time rotating around each other at incredible speed.
The galaxy's active core causes molecular currents to move, resulting in continuous shocks that can release oxygen from the water particles present in the galaxy. Knowing this, the scientists decided to use the 30-meter IRAM radio telescope in Spain to observe Markaryan-231. Based on data obtained during a four-day observation of the galaxy, the researchers discovered the real presence of a spectral oxygen signature in Markaryan-231. It is known that strong oxygen radiation is located approximately 32,615 light years from the center of the galaxy and occurs as a result of the interaction between the active molecular flow and the clouds of the outer disk.
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The group's measurements also showed that the oxygen content in Markaryan-231 was about 100 times higher than that in the aforementioned Orion Nebula, suggesting that the galaxy could go through a much more intense version of the same process of molecular fission. Markaryan is also a galaxy with active star formation processes. So it is known that new stars are formed in the object with an average speed of more than 100 solar masses per year. For comparison: Our galaxy can only produce 1-2 stars of medium mass annually.